Shanai Haana Matteson (b. 1982) is an artist, writer, mother, and cultural organizer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She creates collaborative public art projects, social spaces, and other artistic work rooted in place and social ecology. Through her creative and community life, Shanai seeks to transform her own relationships, while growing communities and cultures of reciprocity and care.
Originally from the small town of Palisade in northern Aitkin County, Shanai still spends much of her time in Northeastern Minnesota with her family and community. Though she’s rooted in her northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, she’ll always call the Mississippi River headwaters, and Minnesota’s north country, her true home.
Shanai is the mother of two young children, who encourage her to integrate the loving work of raising a family with active participation in community life, as well as collective struggles for social, racial, and environmental justice.
Shanai is co-founder and collaborative director of Water Bar & Public Studio, an artist-led benefit corporation that serves water to build relationships that transform culture. Prior to founding Water Bar in 2014, she and her collaborator Colin Kloecker led the nationally-recognized public art and design collective Works Progress. As Works Progress, Shanai and her partners were founding members of the national network Common Field, and organized the Hand-in-Glove Conference (now Common Field Convening) in Minneapolis in 2015.
Shanai was also one of the designers and curators of the City Art Collaboratory program of Public Art Saint Paul, a groundbreaking fellowship and think tank for artists and scientists immersed in systems thinking and paradigm work. As a cultural organizer, Shanai continues to develop platforms for artists to research in collaboration with others, especially those working in the sciences and water resource fields. She is currently co-convener of the University of Minnesota-sponsored collaborative Ways of Knowing Water, and speaks frequently at conferences and public events about how art-science collaborations can advance water equity and climate resilience.
In addition to her work serving water and community through her own cultural and community projects, Shanai is active in other efforts to heal relationships with land, water, and place as a core partner in the indigenous-led Healing Place Collaborative. This group of artists, educators, researchers and activists play leadership roles in articulating the vital nature of the Mississippi River and indigenous leadership in the life of the Twin Cities - a Dakota place.
Shanai and her artistic collaborators have been featured in museum exhibitions, art spaces, and publications across the United States, but whenever possible, she prefers to work in public spaces close to home. She’s most interested in emergent and strategic arts activism at the margins of established fields or practices, and believes these edges and intersections provide the most fertile ground for artists and others to learn and create together.
Shanai studied creative writing at the Perpich Center for Arts Education (2000), attended the University of Minnesota for Cultural Studies and History of Science (2005) and is an alum of the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs or HECUA Art for Social Change program.
Shanai was a Fellow in the Creative Community Leadership Institute at Intermedia Arts, received a 2013 Bush Fellowship for her arts and environmental leadership work, was the recipient of a 2014 River Stewards Emerging Leader Award from the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, and a 2018 Public Health Heroes Award from the City of Minneapolis. She is a 2018 McKnight Visual Arts Fellow.
As an artist, Shanai and her collaborators have been awarded grants and fellowships from Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Art Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and Minnesota State Arts Board.
In addition to her ongoing work as an artist, small business owner, activist, and collaborative director of a locally-focused art and ecology space, Shanai serves on the community advisor board (or fictive kinship) of Yo Mama’s House Cooperative, a regenerative space and network for women in their roles as mothers, artists, activists and healers, led by artist Amoke Kubat.
Shanai is also part of the Advisory Group for the US Water Alliance's new national project Advancing One Water Through Arts and Culture. She was the organizer of the 2018 Minnesota Artist Delegation to the One Water Summit, and remains committed to connecting artists and others involved in water work.
Amid all of this arts and community work, she is trying to spend more of her time with family, outdoors, or visiting one-on-one with other people, and much less of it staring at computer screens. You can connect with her here and here, or reach out to her at shanai [at] worksprogress.org - or visit her on Fridays at Water Bar & Public Studio.